In September of 2010, the Minnesota Twins unveiled a memorial to highlight Calvin Griffith, their first owner. While Griffith is credited with bringing professional baseball to Minneapolis, his racist attitudes and actions outweigh his accomplishments. In response to increasing public pressure following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the memorial was removed in June of 2020.
Griffith is remembered for bringing major league sports to the Twin Cities. He took over the Washington Senators from his late uncle and guardian in 1955 and received permission to move the team from Washington, DC, to Minnesota in October of 1960. While the Twins failed to win a World Series title while owned by Griffith, the team found undeniable success in Minnesota, winning several division titles.
Griffith developed a reputation as an accessible, outspoken, and gaffe-prone team owner. Reporters vividly highlighted his coarse perspectives and “mangled . . . syntax.” His blunt mannerisms also revealed his attitudes on race. While speaking at the Waseca Lions Club in September of 1978, Griffith made numerous explicitly racist comments about his fans and his players. Most notoriously, while responding to a question regarding why he chose to relocate the Twins to Minnesota, he asserted,
“I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota, it was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ball games, but they’ll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it’ll scare you to death. It’s unbelievable. We came here because you’ve got good, hard-working, white people here.”
While the comments at the Lions Club were the most explicit demonstration of Griffith’s racist attitudes, his bigotry was not confined to “off-the-record” events. In fact, in 1962 the Minnesota State Commission on Discrimination filed a complaint against the Twins as the only Major League Baseball (MLB) team still segregating players during spring training and on road trips through the South.
With a history and reputation as contentious as Griffith’s, many questioned the Twins’ decision to place a bronze statue of him near Gate 29 at Target Field. Nevertheless, his memorial was unveiled in September, 2010, for the Twins’ inaugural season at Target Field. Sculpted by Twin Cities artist Bill Mack, the life-size sculpture of Griffith showed him with a jacket over his arm and a baseball in hand accompanied by a placard reading, “I love baseball that’s all. Ever since I was a little kid playing on those sandlots in Washington. There’s nothing like being at the game.”
His statue was part of a collection of memorials intended to highlight prominent figures in Twins history, including Griffith’s successors, Eloise and Carl Pohlad, and players like Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew. In fact, Griffith’s statue was placed just meters away from the statue honoring Rod Carew, a star player under Griffith who left the team following Griffith’s racist assertions in Waseca. While Carew voiced his support and understanding of the Twins’ decision to erect the memorial, the statue generated controversy and uncertainty among Minnesotans.
On April 15, 2015, VICE published an article entitled, “Why the Twins Should Tear Down Their Statue of a Former Owner.” Around the same time, lifelong Twins fan Mike Tucker began what would be referred to as a “one-man boycott” against the team and their decision to maintain the statue. Tucker later created a Facebook group called “MN Twins fans for removal of Calvin Griffith statue at Target Field” that accumulated over 250 members.
Responding to the controversy and increasing pressure from the community following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, the Twins released a statement explaining that the statue had been removed on Juneteenth (June 19), 2020. They stated,“While we acknowledge the prominent role Calvin Griffith played in our history, we cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978.”
The team further asserted, “We cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of this statue is an important and necessary step in our ongoing commitment to provide a Target Field experience where every fan and employee feels safe and welcome.” During the memorial’s removal, the Twins’ owners committed to investing $25 million in racial justice initiatives.
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.